Articles | Volume 7, issue 1
14 Feb 2007
 | 14 Feb 2007

How tall is an elephant? Two methods for estimating elephant height

F. Della Rocca

Abstract. Shoulder height is a reliable indicator of age for African elephants (Loxodonta africana), and is therefore an important parameter to be recorded in field studies of population ecology of these pachyderms. However, it can be somewhat difficult to estimate with precision the shoulder height of free-ranging elephants because of several reasons, including the presence of drops and vegetation cover and the potential dangerousness of approaching them in the wild. Here I test two alternative models for estimating shoulder height of elephants. In both models, the equipment needed to generate the height estimates is minimal, and include a telemeter and a digital photo-camera furnished with an ×16 zoom. The models are based respectively on a linear regression approach and on a geometric formula approach, and put into a relationship the linear distance between the observer and the animal, the number of pixels of an elephant silhouette as taken from digital photos, and the absolute height of the animal. Both methods proved to have a very small measurement error, and were thus reliable for field estimates of elephant shoulder heights. The model based on a geometric formula was used to estimate the shoulder height distribution of an elephant population in a savannah region of West Africa (Zakouma National Park, Chad). I demonstrated that Zakouma elephants were among the tallest populations in Africa, with growth rates being highest throughout the first five years of life.